Taking the Hard Road
Being an advocate of diversity and inclusion is less about riding the wave and more about driving changes within your own brand, Tom Phillips hears.
Brands cannot simply opt out of diversity and inclusion (D&I). Registrants in yesterday’s session Diversity and Inclusion: How to Live Your Values to the Benefit of Your People and Your Brand heard how D&I involves tackling issues both inside the company and in how the brand interacts with the world.
“There is clearly much to be done to address inequality in society, and trusted brands can use their influence to do good and make a change—and that’s really powerful,” said Michael Moore, Assistant General Counsel, Senior Director, Trademarks & Copyrights at Mattel, Inc. (US).
Mr. Moore declared that brands “emphatically” have a role to play in D&I. Further, he suggested that brands that ignore D&I will face a “real penalty for sitting out”—in terms of innovation, market value, consumer loyalty, and trust.
“Consumers want to align with brands that reflect their values, and consumers expect brands to take a stand and act on things that matter to them,” Mr. Moore explained. “Brands are taking this very seriously.”
As well as being the right thing to do “morally,” Mr. Moore pointed out that having strong D&I within an organization has commercial benefits, with research consistently finding that diverse businesses have a competitive advantage.
Moderator Sanjana Sharma, Associate General Counsel, Intellectual Property at UL LLC (US), named long-term employee retention and high financial performance as some of D&I’s many benefits.
“There is clearly much to be done to address inequality in society, and trusted brands can use their influence to do good and make a change.”
Michael Moore, Mattel, Inc.
Lessons from BARBIE
In 2016, Mattel, Inc. launched Project Dawn, a revamp of the BARBIE brand to transform the traditionally white, blond, blue-eyed doll into a more inclusive product. It resulted in the company’s release of dolls with different body shapes, eye colors, hairstyles, and skin tones.
“The images we put out there are important,” said Kim Culmone, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Design for Barbie and Fashion Dolls, Mattel, Inc. (US).
However, getting Project Dawn off the ground wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“Not everybody was on board, not because they didn’t believe in their hearts that D&I is important, but because the work is difficult,” Ms. Culmone explained.
“We had to be willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work that it takes to evolve a brand, and that’s what keeps brands like BARBIE successful,” she said. “It’s important that we continue to evolve.”
As noted by Mr. Moore, “We need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable about the conversations we’re having.”
In October, Mattel reported that the BARBIE brand had seen its biggest quarterly sales since 2003, with more than half of the sales coming from dolls representing diversity.
Although Mattel has benefited financially from Project Dawn, Ms. Culmone said that sales were not the driving force behind BARBIE’s evolution. The real catalyst was the feedback Mattel received from children and parents. In short, the messaging and brand no longer resonated.
To other brands, Ms. Culmone said, “If you can’t do it for heart, do it for dollars. It’s a win-win situation.”
Echoing Mr. Moore’s comment, she said, “Those who do not make these changes will be left behind.”
Personally, Ms. Culmone said, “It makes me so proud to work for an organization that’s willing to take a stand and create real change. We invented the fashion doll category, and we should be the ones to continue to reinvent it.”
“We had to be willing to roll up our sleeves and do the work that it takes to evolve a brand, and that’s what keeps brands like BARBIE successful.”
Kim Culmone, Mattel, Inc.
Lessons from Harley-Davidson
Earlier this year, motorcycle brand Harley-Davidson made the news when the company terminated its business relationship with a Tennessee-based dealer who had posted a derogatory comment about the Black Lives Matter movement on his personal Facebook page.
“This surprised me, in a very pleasant way,” said Adraea Brown, Assistant General Counsel–Trademarks at H-D USA., LLC (US), which owns the Harley-Davison brand. “Terminating dealership rights is not easy to do, but it was worth the risk of a potential legal battle to say that this is not who we want to be affiliated with our brand.”
After cutting ties with the dealer, the company made a statement in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement on social media.
“That’s a big deal, and it was the first time in my five years at Harley-Davidson that the company had spoken out publicly like that,” Ms. Brown commented.
She explained that the statement ended with the phrase “United We Will Ride,” to show that motorcycling may not be for everyone but that anyone who wants to ride is invited—it doesn’t matter who you are.
According to Ms. Sharma, actions such as this are important in showing consumers that they can have confidence in what the company stands for.
“It was worth the risk of a potential legal battle to say that this is not who we want to be affiliated with our brand.”
Adraea Brown, H-D USA., LLC
Doing D&I The Right Way
Commitment to D&I must be authentic, noted Ms. Brown.
For example, many brands have taken to including rainbow graphics on their products to show support for LGBTQ+ equality issues. But D&I is less about packaging and more about what the organization is doing about a cause, Ms. Brown argued. “What’s happening behind the curtain? What is your company doing behind the products?” she asked.
To address this, Ms. Culmone advised, companies should make clear, tangible pledges to achieve certain milestones in the D&I space.
For example, Mattel is being more transparent than ever before, according to Mr. Moore, and has made its diversity goals available for the public to view. These include greater female representation and pay equality.
“We’re speaking publicly about it to hold ourselves accountable,” he said. “If we don’t meet the diversity goals, we’ll lose consumer trust.”
“It’s one thing to post ‘Black Lives Matter’ on your social media pages, but making tangible commitments to a journey which is never over is important,” Ms. Culmone concluded.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock / Andrei Bortnikau
Friday, November 20, 2020